US Policy in the Middle East – An Obstacle to Peace, 2001 US State Department Human Rights Report and Palestinian Refugee Rights

For nearly two weeks Ariel Sharon and the government of Israel have conducted a brutal military assault on Palestinian towns and refugee camps leaving behind a wide swath of destruction, humiliation and death. Political negotiations about a peace based on justice, international law and UN resolutions is an option that Sharon’s government aims to avoid by any means, including a further escalation of the military conflict, which will bring more Palestinian and Israeli casualties and no decisive victory to Israel. There is little if any reason to believe that US Special Envoy Anthony Zinni, scheduled to visit the region this week, will coerce the Israeli government into abandoning its strategy.

The complete absence of effective international intervention strongly suggests that the United States, along with key European allies, now accept that Israel’s aerial bombardment, firing surface-to-surface missiles, and strafing refugee camps with heavy machine gun fire, as well as attacks on medical personnel, is acceptable practice. The lack of respect for basic human rights in US policy is further illustrated by the recently released US Department of State annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which are supposedly “a tangible manifestation of our [US] deep and abiding belief in and commitment to the UNIVERSALITY of human rights.” (Emphasis added).

Palestinian Refugees in the US State Department’s 2001 Human Rights Report:

The universality of human rights, however, apparently does not extend to Palestinian refugees. The 2001 Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories does not contain a single reference to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, the right to real property restitution, and the right to compensation for losses and damages. In fact, one is hard pressed to find a single reference to Palestinian refugees in the report, despite the fact that refugees comprise over 50 percent of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and three-quarters of the Palestinian people worldwide.

The report states that Israeli law provides for “freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration and repatriation.” The report also acknowledges that Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship and residence to Jews, does not apply to non-Jews. The report fails, however, to mention that Israel’s citizenship and nationality law includes provisions that intentionally deprive Palestinian refugees of their right to repatriation due to their national and religious origin.

The report states that “privacy of the individual and home generally are protected by law” and that “individuals are free … to own property.” The report fails to mention, however, that Israel expropriated and/or destroyed some 150,000 Palestinian refugee homes in 1948 along with their contents, including furniture, jewelry, clothes, books, and paintings for exclusive Jewish use. It also fails to mention that the majority of the land ‘owned’ and managed by the government and the Jewish National Fund (comprising 93 percent of country’s land) was expropriated from Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The report notes that the Israeli government continues to prevent the return of internally displaced Palestinians from the villages of Iqrit and Kafr Bir’am in the Galilee, but fails to mention the approximately 250,000 internally displaced Palestinians inside Israel who are still denied the right to return to their villages of origin. The report does not include a single reference to Palestinian refugees who were displaced for the first time in 1967 and whose rights were to be implemented before the commencement of final status negotiations between the PLO and Israel. The report also fails to mention the specific impact of human rights violations on Palestinian refugees, camp refugees in particular, in the occupied Palestinian territories since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada.

Finally, the 2001 report fails to mention the root cause of Israel’s violation of the human rights of Palestinian refugees. The report omits the fact that Israeli law does not provide for the fundamental right to equality. Under the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, the definition of Israel as a Jewish state (i.e., a Jewish majority and Jewish control of the land) supersedes the fundamental right to equality. There is no fundamental right to equality because the Israeli Knesset sought to protect the preferential treatment accorded to Jews inside the state and in the Diaspora. According to the Knesset member who brought the bill before the Knesset, “such an article [on equality] was an obstacle to the passage of the bill.” (Adalah, Legal Violations of Arab Minority Rights in Israel)

In practice, this means that while every Jew has the right to automatic citizenship and residency under Israeli law, Palestinian refugees whose homes and villages or origin are located inside the borders of the state of Israel are denied the basic human right to return to their places of birth and origin. In practice, the right to property inside Israel is vested in every Jew, including Jews holding citizenship and resident in Israel and those in the Diaspora (i.e., the Jewish people), and held by the state and the Jewish National Fund in perpetuity, while Palestinian refugees are denied the right to their property inside the state. Israel accepts the right of real property restitution for property inside Israel wrongfully expropriated from Jewish property owners but rejects this right when it relates to Palestinian refugees.

The US Department of State Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories stands in marked contrast to country reports on Bosnia and Kosovo, for example, which include extensive reporting on the right of return and the right to real property restitution of refugees. The Report also stands in marked contrast to the US position regarding other refugee cases. US State Department lawyers, for example, drafted the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia, including Annex 7 on refugees, which clearly affirms the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes and receive real property restitution. The US has also aggressively supported claims for real property restitution in Europe, particularly in the case of displaced European Jews.

It is difficult to draw any other conclusion than that the complete and gross omission of Palestinian refugees as a human rights issue is intentional and politically motivated. It is implausible that the omission was a mere oversight. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson recently noted her grave concern about a growing perception of a double standard in the region. The problem is not one of perceptions but one of realities. On the same day that the US Department of State submitted its 2001 Report on Human Rights to the US Congress, Amnesty International warned that any future peace initiatives, including the ‘Saudi plan’ “must not repeat the mistakes of the past. One of the reasons why the Oslo Agreement of 1993 failed was because human rights were not at its centre." There is little if any reason to believe that the upcoming visit of US Special Envoy Anthony Zinni to the region will signify a shift in US foreign policy in the region. As long as American foreign policy in the Middle East ignores basic principles of international law, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin, the US will continue to be one of the primary impediments to peace in the region. Watch live as sexy babes spread their legs on live cam and Girls Live Cams await to chat and play with you in public and in naughty privates!

(The US Department of State report can be viewed at:http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/8148.htm)

In this context, and in light of Israel’s continued grave breaches of international law, which have only escalated in recent weeks, a systematic and sustained campaign for a total boycott and sanctions against Israel, similar to the anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa, will be necessary to effectuate progress towards a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict. At the third World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban/South Africa, thousands of civil society organizations identified Israel’s ongoing military occupation and the massive displacement and expropriation of the Palestinian people as the root-causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is now time for the implementation of a global campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian people:

Solidarity with the Palestinian People! End the Ongoing Nakba!

*Boycott Israel – Isolate the Israeli Apartheid Regime
*Promote the Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees
*Campaign against Israeli War Crimes